Why were all the members of the Williams family leaving home at 7:15 that Saturday morning? The were headed toward the local airport to join a ceremony for World War II veterans who were going to be flown for a day trip to Washington, DC, an “Honor Flight” organized by community leaders to thank the vets for their service.
Mr. Williams, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, wanted to honor fellow vets of all wars and had promised the town’s mayor that he and his family would be at the airport for the 8 a.m. ceremony. They left home early to be sure not to get caught in traffic and to arrive in time to lend a hand if help were needed.
The mayor greeted the Williamses warmly and introduced them to the local state senator, himself a veteran of the Second World War and the Korean War.
Rick said, “Dad, I didn’t know the state senator also knew you.”
“Yes, he has given the Fire Department some help on a couple of local projects. He seems to know everybody, and the mayor knows almost as many.”
Promptly at 8 a.m., the cavalcade arrived at the airport: a police car with flashing lights led the way, followed by dozens of motorcyclists, with group names like “Rolling Thunder” and “Biker Leathernecks.”
A hundred or so spectators, including the Williamses, lined the approach to the passenger entrance. A brass band made up of younger veterans played patriotic marching music.
“Rick, what’s that called?” asked Tess, pointing to a horn that wrapped around one of the band members.
“It’s a Sousaphone, a tuba for marching, named after John Philip Sousa, who composed lots of marches.” Rick would know, being a tuba player himself.
Mrs. Williams, a teacher who rarely missed an opportunity to teach, said to Tim, “Do you see something unusual about the band? What do all the instruments have in common?”
Tim thought. “They are all kinds of horns, only horns.”
“Right, dear, that’s why this kind of group is called a ‘brass band,’ as horns are often made of brass. The smallest are the trumpets and there are trombones and the largest, those two Sousaphones.”
The buses with the elderly vets stopped and the men got off slowly, often with help. They were almost all 90 years old or older. The busses had lifts to let the few who were in wheelchairs go from bus to street level. The crowd ranged in age from a few two-year olds to some in their nineties, and all ages in between, probably a few spouses, many friends, and lots of sons, daughters, grand-children and great-grandchildren…and all applauding the men as they slowly made their way into the airport. Applause and music marked their progress, with all of it being captured by amateur photography and filming.
Once inside, the vets were seated and the crowd continued to grow, reaching about a thousand. They were led in the Pledge of Allegiance, sang the “Star-Spangled Banner,” joined in prayer and heard several speakers thank the World War II veterans for their service, and acknowledge the service of the other former military personnel and their families.
While returning home, the kids were asked by Mr. Williams what they learned from the trip.
“Those were very brave men,” said Tim.
“We owe them a lot,” added Tess.
“Our freedom didn’t come for free,” concluded Rick.
One of our 50 instructional short stories for school children.